BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge
As practice ended Saturday and the University of Toledo football team gathered at midfield, everybody at the Glass Bowl knew Alonzo Russell was not happy with how the offense finished its day.
So did anybody else within calling distance of campus. Russell shouted about how that day wasn't good enough, and for as unhappy as he was, UT's coaches silently cheered. They saw exactly what they wanted out of Russell, who will take over as the Rockets' No. 1 receiver for the departed Bernard Reedy.
If Russell's year goes the way Toledo's coaches hope it will, Russell will assume Reedy's spot not just as a first team All-Mid-American Conference receiver, but as a leader as well.
“It's gotten to the point where his skill set matches his ability,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said of Russell.
“He's been through the ups and downs of this program both on and off the field, so I think he's earned the right to be a leader for this football team.”
Russell has been a major factor in both of his two playing seasons at Toledo. After redshirting his first year, he caught 56 passes as a freshman and 59 as a sophomore last season, and was named third-team All-MAC in both years.
That came in support of Reedy, who caught 62 passes and eight touchdowns last season. Without Reedy, much of the support will fall on Russell, which includes guidance of younger teammates.
“Coach Campbell really took me under his wing and told me I have to step up and make my leadership more vocal,” Russell said. “I'm not really a vocal leader. I'm more of a do-it type of guy.”
So far, though, Russell's vocal leadership has not been a concern for the coaches.
“We haven't really pushed him [to be vocal] that much. He's kind of done it on his own,” receivers coach Derek Sage said.
Russell said the unit as a whole will have to make up for Reedy's catches, but Russell himself will be lining up against the opposing team's best cornerback every week.
Sage said Russell has “the whole package” in terms of an outside receiver — and it was on full display Tuesday. Russell, after shaking off pass interference and beating his defender to the ball, jumped to catch a pass and toe-tapped just inbounds for what would have been a first down. UT will count on Russell to make plays like that during the season.
Whether Russell is making Randy Moss-like catches or not, he said he doesn't care as long as Toledo adds a trophy to its collection come December.
“We wanted to win a conference championship last year and we obviously came up short,” Russell said. “If I get three catches or nine catches, it don't matter as long as we end up with a 'W.'”